on banning bossy

So Sheryl Sandberg, the patron saint of leaning in, has handed down a new commandment from the mount: Ban “bossy”.

(I had to convince myself not to write “excommunicate ‘Bossy’ from your vocabulary.” A holy trinity of inconsistent religious imagery! Apparently poorly-constructed figurative devices give me a weird thrill today.)

When I heard about this, I had two simultaneous and confusing gut reactions.

Feminist Clara: Yeah! Empower girls! “Bossy” is totally gendered and that’s bullshit! Stop saying it!

Aries Clara: Don’t fucking tell me what to do!

In general, I’m on board. I don’t really call people bossy in the first place (because I am not in third grade), but I’m certainly not starting now.

But as a kid, I would have hated this campaign. And I would have hated it because I hated the bossy girls. (There were no bossy boys. Boys aren’t bossy. Boys are “leaders”).

Bossy girls drove me fucking crazy.

Who did they think they were? They had no right to appoint themselves dictator of whatever little activity we were doing. If anyone deserved to be the dictator, it was me, but I had enough tact not to rub my superiority in everyone’s face! These are true thoughts, directly from my elementary school era. Tactful indeed.

To be fair, bossy boys (or whatever we would have called them) drove me crazy too. I think I just believed that I should be in charge of my peers, always. The level of smugness I possessed as a little girl is truly astounding, and sometimes I wish I had it back.

Which is part of the reason I still want to push back against this campaign. Sheryl Sandberg, I’ve had about enough of you telling me what to do! Who died and made you the Queen of feminism? Just because you have a job and a book and you’re friends with Beyonce, you get to be the unofficial mouthpiece for all women (who, by the way, according to you, aren’t trying hard enough)? And now you think you get to go around banning words from other people’s vocabularies? Think again!

The brilliant minds of Jezebel have suggested reclaiming “bossy” instead, which is a more interesting solution. Why not encourage bossiness? If someone had told me to be bossy, maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much time sulking in the corner, wondering who put the dumb kids in charge.

Bossiness isn’t exactly a virtue, but encouraging girls to throw politeness to the wind and take control might move the needle in the right direction. We don’t want to be demanding controlling jerks. We just want to get our assertiveness up to our (darling, oblivious, privileged-as-fuck) male peers’ level. As long as someone is keeping an eye out for genuine meanness, promoting bossiness can’t hurt, right?

Of course, the actual problem can’t be solved by taking one word out of circulation. Even if we stop saying “bossy”, society will still probably expect women to take on a more submissive role in pretty much everything. There are larger problems here.

So I might ban “bossy” from my vocabulary. Maybe I won’t. But as soon as my niece is old enough, I think I’m going to start telling her to fuck the haters and kick some ass.

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